Jaeckel (For the Love of Meat, 2016, etc.) catalogs her daughter’s five months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in this graphic memoir.
When it was discovered that the author was suffering from a buildup of amniotic fluid, her doctors recommended inducing labor early. Shortly after the birth, physicians found that her daughter, Asa, suffered from tracheoesophageal fistula, a rare defect in the esophagus that needed to be corrected with surgery. So began a monthlong process to ensure that Asa could breathe and eat correctly and would be safe from the dangers of infection. It was touch and go, with Jaeckel and her husband, Cito, restricted in their access to Asa. Jaeckel was particularly affected by the stress of the situation. With this memoir, told in paneled illustrations like a graphic novel, the author chronicles her experiences with doctors and nurses (of various degrees of patience and gentleness), supportive friends, her intrusive mother, and the esoteric acronyms that categorize hospital life (“Her SATS are low,” reads one speech bubble. “She had T.P.N. and now she’s still N.P.O.”). The people in the memoir are represented in the illustrations as stylized animals, reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s seminal graphic novel, Maus. Jaeckel and her family, too, are mice, while the supporting characters are a mix of dogs, cats, deer, frogs, and other endearingly drawn creatures. The illustrations greatly soften what, as simple prose, might read as an extremely serious and upsetting account of a sick infant. The depictions of Asa as a tiny mouse with wires and tubes taped to her body are simultaneously adorable and tragic. In the book’s strongest moments, Jaeckel discusses and draws her own fraught emotional state, which leads to very striking panels of symbolic representation: tiny animals separated by immense, inky blackness, and Asa tranquilly aloft among the stars or suspended at the middle of the tree of life. Though hospitals, and illness in general, can often rob patients of their individuality, Jaeckel has managed to represent such a world in a unique and highly personalized way.
A memorable and beautifully executed memoir of a newborn’s difficult first months.